Secondary pitches start clicking for Pelfrey
Right-hander turns to curveballs, sliders, splitters vs. Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The plan hatched recently, when Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen began commanding Mike Pelfrey to rely less and less on his heavy sinker -- his best pitch, but his most predictable one.
The previously one-dimensional Pelfrey embraced the idea.
"I think one day I'd like to become an actual pitcher," Pelfrey joked.
So after a three-hour bus ride through the swampy center of Florida, during which he watched the film "2012" and mulled his repertoire of pitches, Pelfrey arrived at City of Palms Park and began bending, breaking and twisting his lesser-used secondary offerings across home plate.
"We just kept -- bam, strike," Pelfrey said, mimicking the pop of the catcher's mitt.
So he threw another.
"Bam, throwing it for a strike," Pelfrey said.
"Bam, let's do it again."
Of his 66 pitches, Pelfrey hit the strike zone 44 times. And more than half of those tosses, by his estimation, were secondary offerings -- curveballs, sliders and splitters.
The result was a 4-2 Mets victory over the Red Sox, featuring Pelfrey's final line of four innings, four singles, one run, two strikeouts and no walks. Pelfrey's heavy sinker -- advertised as a "bowling ball" since his first days with the team -- resurfaced as well.
Offset by his secondary offerings, it became exponentially more effective.
"It was a real positive outing," Pelfrey said.
In the second inning, Pelfrey froze Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis on a called third strike. In the third, Pelfrey spun a slider past shortstop Marco Scutaro.
Big-name victims such as those made Pelfrey's outing seem all the more impressive. Playing at home, the Red Sox inserted seven of their nine regulars into the starting lineup -- only J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury didn't play. But Pelfrey ignored the Major League names popping up on the scoreboard.
"He faced a pretty good lineup," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "To perform in that manner against those guys, that's pretty impressive. That's a big-time American League East team."
Facing, the Mets hope, a big-time National League East pitcher. Pelfrey isn't there yet, nor has he shown enough consistency to even approach that type of stature. But the Mets are holding out hope that one day, if Johan Santana is asked again who the best pitcher in the NL East is, he may have to consider his teammate.
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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Pelfrey certainly has the stuff to become, if nothing else, an above-average pitcher. Playing catch before the game, bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello noticed that he was featuring more movement than usual on his ball, and joked that Pelfrey had purchased his secondary pitches "on eBay."
"Then I went to the 'pen and it was terrible," Pelfrey joked. "And I said, 'Oh gosh, I'm going to get my money back now.'"
Then he took the mound at City of Palms Park and began rattling off outs.
"So it worked out," he said.
It was a confident Pelfrey who spoke those words after the game, a Pelfrey eager to take the mound again in five days and prove that Wednesday was no fluke. Though all three of his secondary offerings were working and his "sinker started sinking again," Pelfrey knows that can't happen every time out.
But if Pelfrey can continue to refine his curveball, slider and splitter, he may enjoy days like this one more often.
Often this spring, Manuel has stressed the importance of the second, third and fourth pitchers in his rotation -- Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez in some order. But none of them had done much to distinguish themselves until Pelfrey's outing against Boston.
Unlike the others, he took a notable -- and potentially sustainable -- step forward.
Pelfrey's 12 losses and 5.03 ERA last season were largely a product of two factors: his sinker had lost some of its sink, and his secondary pitches were nowhere to be found.
Wednesday, at least for one day, he reversed both trends. That's reason for optimism -- especially here in Spring Training, at a time when optimism reigns.
"I think there are a lot of reasons to be pretty optimistic," Pelfrey said. "Nobody's expecting us to do a whole lot. We're going to lay in the weeds a little bit and snipe some guys, and guys are going to have to start respecting us, and we'll make a run at this thing."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.